The Seem-To-Be Players are giving Laurie Brooks Gollobin's play, "Devon's Hurt," its professional premiere.
A change is under way in the theater world, according to playwright Laurie Brooks Gollobin. Theater for children is beginning to gain the respect it deserves.
"There's more willingness to take on challenging topics. ... The struggle is to gain respect and have parity with adult theater," she said last week during a phone interview from her home in New York. "I see it growing and moving in a more positive direction. ... They're calling it `theater for young audiences.' Right away, you see a shift in attitude."
Brooks Gollobin is in Lawrence this week to watch the production of her play, "Devon's Hurt," by the Seem-To-Be Players and to work with Lawrence theater students and teachers.
"Devon's Hurt" is a four-character play with a simple set that tells the story of 8-year-old Devon, who's having a terrible day. His mother yelled at him; his teacher thinks he's a pain; a classmate punched him; and he's had a fight with his friend Stephanie.
Devon's Hurt comes out of his closet and won't go away. The youngster, with the help of his dog, Sam, deals with his Hurt and reconciles his friendship with Stephanie.
Cast members are Jason Smith as Devon; Sarah Nutt as Stephanie; Gabe Lewis-O'Connor as Sam; and Ric Averill, artistic director of the Seem-To-Be Players, as the Hurt.
"I think the quality of performance and production is high," Brooks Gollobin said. "Ric is marvelous in the part of the Hurt and I can't think of anyone I'd rather have do it."
The play received first prize last year in the Aurand Harris Memorial Playwriting Award competition, an award that's meaningful to Brooks Gollobin because Harris was her mentor while she was pursuing her master's degree in educational theater at New York University. Harris was a highly recognized children's theater playwright.
"He took an interest in me, and it can make a huge difference if someone believes in you," she said.
Brooks Gollobin said she became interested in theater as a child; one of her first roles was the scarecrow in "The Wizard of Oz." She graduated from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in 1970 and then completed a bachelor's degree in theater and voice science in 1977 at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y.
She took time off from theater after her three children were born, and in the 1980s enrolled at New York University.
"That's when I began to be interested in playwriting," she said.
Her first play, "Imaginary Friends," was a 1991 adaptation of a short story by her brother, Terry Brooks, a well-known fantasy writer. The play was commissioned by Hartford's Children's Theatre and appeared in 1993 at New Visions/New Voices at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.
"I was a wreck with my first play," she said. "I had no idea what I was doing. But after you start doing it, you gain confidence and avoid mistakes."
Brooks Gollobin credits her play, "Selkie," with launching her career on a national level. The play won the 1998 Distinguished Play Award from the American Alliance for Theatre and Education, the 1995 Bonderman/IUPUI Youth Theatre Playwriting Award and the 1995 New Visions/New Voices competition at the Kennedy Center.
Her plays have now been produced across the United States and the United Kingdom. Averill said the Seem-To-Be Players will produce "Selkie" next year and perform it on tour throughout the country.
This year, Brooks Gollobin's premieres include "The Match Girl's Gift: A Christmas Story," commissioned by Nashville Children's Theatre, and "The Deadly Weapon," commissioned by Graffiti Theatre Company in Cork, Ireland. "The Wrestling Season," commissioned by the Coterie Theatre in Kansas City, Mo., and "Franklin's Apprentice," commissioned by Stage One in Louisville, Ky., will both premiere in 2000.
She is also working on a new commission for Childsplay in Tempe, Ariz., and a novelization of "Selkie."
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